(This is the first of a four part series on baptism. Part I. is a survey of the baptismal conflict, and an expose on the curious agreement between the Reformed and Roman Catholics in their defence of paedobaptism. This article finishes with a taxonomy of the methods used to defend unbiblical traditions.
Part II. of this series is a response to Samuel Watterson’s “review” of the debate between John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul. Part III. looks at the defects in the arguments for paedobaptism advanced by the Reformers, specifically John Calvin. Part IV. considers the arguments of the historical Anabaptists and Baptists of the 16th and 17 centuries, and the strong biblical support for credobaptism.)
The Battle Wreckage: A Survey of the Baptismal Conflict
Long ago on a mountaintop somewhere in the Province of Judea, the Lord Jesus Christ – indisputably risen from the dead and soon to return to the highest reaches of heaven – issued a great commission to his disciples:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
As the Lord ascended back to heaven into the blinding sun, and the clouds hid him from view, the disciples obediently rolled up their sleeves and began the tremendous work of building the Lord’s church.
As they carried the gospel throughout the long stretches of the Roman Empire, preaching, teaching, and engaging in disputation with opponents, it probably never entered their minds that one day baptism would become so controversial that Christians would be put to death by other “Christians” for the sake of this sacrament.
It would never have occurred to them that baptism would excite hostility and division among future generations of Christians, to the extent that it would cleave the Christian community apart into vast disconnected camps. Neither would the Apostles have imagined that traditions would emerge from a complex fusion of politics, circumstance, and state policy that would harden into inflexibility like dry wood.
All of this would have been inconceivable in those early decades of the Church. None of the Apostles could have foreseen the religious conditions of 2018, in which millions of people have been baptised (“christened”) but grow up without any shred of Christian faith, while others accept the Christian faith but are not baptised.
Whatever baptism was intended to be by the Lord Jesus, even a cursory glance at the current situation must lead any thoughtful Christian to realise that baptism (and how it is understood) has suffered some terrible breakdown in the corridors of history. One of the most vivid illustrations of this breakdown is found in the sheer number of competing ideas about baptism, not shared merely by one or two off-the-ranch groups, but by large swathes of Christendom. These ideas range from an outright denial of the role of baptism altogether, to claims that baptism itself regenerates a person.
Let us survey the landscape for a moment and behold the wreckage of the centuries.
Unquestionably, the majority position is paedobaptism (the baptism of infants). Under this view, baptism is regarded as a continuation of Old Testament circumcision. It is seen as “the sign of the covenant” by which a person enters the “covenant of grace”, or alternatively, as the means by which a person is initiated into the Christian community. Paedobaptism has a long history of being enforced as a matter of state policy by governments, councils and kings, since there was a strong overlap between baptism (“christening”) and being a citizen within the civic order. Penalties for failing to baptise one’s infant could result in dispossession, exile, or even death.
The sizeable minority position among Christians is credobaptism (sometimes called believer’s baptism). The Latin word credo means “I believe”. Thus, credobaptism is a baptism contingent on faith. Credobaptists teach that baptism can only rightly be administered to people who openly confess their faith in Christ, declare their repentance from sin, and profess a commitment to follow Christ. It is still seen as an initiation into the Christian church but it is regarded as an initiation that reflects a conscious and willing faith. Conversely, credobaptists teach the uselessness and invalidity of administering baptism to infants, citing an infant’s lack of faith, the absence of scriptural support for the practice, and the resultant numbers of people baptised as babies who never go on to a serious faith later in life. Historically, credobaptists have been brutally persecuted by holders of paedobaptist understandings, because their repudiation of infant baptism and their practice of re-baptising people who were baptised as infants, was regarded as a threat to the civic and political order of the age.
Other groups simply do not baptise at all. This position that could be termed nullbaptism. The Salvation Army for example has a long-standing policy of neither observing baptism nor holy communion. They argue that the sacraments are too divisive, too external, too lacking in scriptural support, and that these sacraments tend to obscure the need for people to have a personal relationship with Jesus. They lead people to rely on an external rite instead of inward conviction. This is a position that has been held by a wide range of smaller groups, such as Quakers and Hyperdispensationalist groups.
Interestingly, even as nullbaptists, Salvationists still recognise a need for an initiation of some kind. They essentially replace baptism with a “swearing in ceremony” involving a public confession under the banner of the church’s flag. This initiates a new “soldier” into the Salvation Army. Salvationists cite the Quakers as an example of the possibility of living a holy life without baptism or holy communion.
In addition to the above positions, some hold to baptismal regeneration. They teach the very act of baptism accomplishes spiritual renewal – it gives new birth and new spiritual life to the person who is baptised. When administered to infants, regeneration is said to occur, although this is often followed with the caveat that the promise contained in baptism is conditional on future faith and repentance. Various understandings of baptismal regeneration can be found in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Eastern Orthodoxy and among the Reformed. Mormons and the Churches of Christ also believe in a form of baptismal regeneration.
Then there are other novel ideas about this sacrament such as the baptism of the dead, practiced by Mormons on behalf of dead people so that they can be given posthumous chances to believe in Mormonism and reach some level of heaven. Baptism of the dead is also practised by the Old Apostolic Church and the New Apostolic Church where a living person essentially serves as a proxy for someone deceased.
Roman Catholic theology also advances the theory of the baptism of desire whereby a person who has never believed in Jesus Christ for a single moment of his life, can still be saved merely by mere virtue of wanting to be a good person.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is another major concept within some circles, but one that is perhaps the most difficult to nail down. Myriad are the ways this concept is understood and taught, from the charismatic view of the Pentecostals whereby baptism of the Holy Spirit produces the ecstatic speaking in tongues, to the view found within the Holiness Movement that such a baptism produces a deep and abiding personal sanctification – an extraordinary level of virtue and Christ-likeness – in the life of the believer.
There are also fierce disagreements between Christian groups about the mode of baptism. Some argue that baptism must always involve full immersion under the water as the only method that secures a proper baptism and the method that best follows the example set of Jesus himself. This is the characteristic position of those who hold to believers’ baptism. Other Christian groups – generally paedobaptists – usually practice sprinkling small quantities of water on the head of an infant. Other groups may apply baptism through affusion, which involves the pouring of water on the head. Some churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, practice all three modes of baptism.
A Christendom That Lost It’s Mission
Evidence abounds (see: here, here, and here for a sample) that Christendom has lost its mission in the West. Far from evangelising the nations and making disciples of all people, the “old” mainstream churches spend their time with symbolic and self-indulgent proclamations about the environment, internecine conflict over sexual ethics about which the Bible clearly judges, and ecumenical meetings in which the guests are attired in the colourful garb of other religions. So deep into the puddle of heresy has so much “Christian” religious activity has fallen, that nearly 20% of the clergy of some churches do not even have an identifiable faith in God.
Churches no longer project a united, determined, and simple message, but present themselves more like failing businesses desperate to generate revenue. They have become so desirous for new buttocks to sit in their pews that their attitude toward doctrine is one of near-indifference. You could sit for centuries worth of man hours in the modern Church of England or even most Methodist and Presbyterian churches before you heard a fire-and-brimstone sermon, thundering from the pew like the voice of God, commanding the congregation to repent and believe the Most High Jesus Christ as the one and only way to heaven.
How could Christendom have collapsed so spectacularly? How could John Wesley’s Methodism, (to choose just one example among many), which once performed such a great missionary work in the American colonies and among the Welsh working poor, descend into rank liberalism? How could the Church of England, which once sent missionaries to China, India and Nigeria, become a nut house whose clergy seem more concerned with Palestinian rights and discrimination than the necessity of salvation through Christ?
Although the entire answer does not lie in the sacrament of baptism – as if by fine-tuning a rite we can manufacture faith – yet, certainly part of the answer does. The church is in urgent need of completing the Reformation. It needs to purge out the last remaining medievalisms and return to the sparkling fountains of the source, and thereby recover a true, Christ-centred sacramental theology. A theology of baptism in which repentance and faith, and a true inward communion with an authentic, risen Christ is so paramount, that Christians would be able to say with St. Peter, “and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God“.
This issue is a pivotal one and cannot be tossed aside like junk in the attic. The best reason to handle baptism thoughtfully and with care is the plain fact that baptism was commanded by Jesus, and it thus forms a core part of the Church’s mission – the mission that was defined by none other than Christ himself. Therefore, errors regarding baptism threaten the very integrity of the Church’s divinely mandated task on earth. Given this, we may even go so far as to assume that any Christian revival – (should the Lord in his mercy allow fresh sap to flow through the withering vine of the remnants of the organised church that grows in the West) – will also feature a wholesale renewal in the practice of true biblical baptism.
One may even argue with some force – as John MacArthur and others do – that the visible, organised church has experienced a catastrophic collapse in the West precisely because biblical baptism has been forsaken and there is no longer a clear, public means of identifying who is a true Christian. In most paedobaptist communions today, it is assumed that a regular churchgoer who was christened as a baby must be an authentic Christian. The gateway to the pulpit and the sacraments are swung open freely, and this has allowed generations of unbelievers to rise to the top. Once ensconced in a position of authority, they soon beckon upward other heterodox believers like themselves, and thereby attempt to reshape their denomination in their own image.
Filling a church up with unbelievers merely by dint of an infant sprinkling is particularly disastrous to the integrity of the faith in our age – a period in which believers can no longer rely upon the state to uphold Christian morality or enforce Christian doctrines.
Until recently, a church full of non-Christians could limp along without shattering into heresy because cooperative governments provided a framework of support. The organised church grew like a climbing plant. Providing it had the trellis of the State to entwine itself around, it could operate its schools, hospitals, and it could even proclaim a reasonably whole gospel in a mechanical fashion with a half-baked clergy. The organised church trundled along as a conservative cultural and social institution. Even if it manufactured hypocrites and pharisees by the truckload, and though it did not catapult many people into glory, at least it did not publicly damage the Christian witness.
Since the Second World War, Western governments have secularised. They no longer give any priority to Christianity, even on a basic cultural level. Thus, the trellis has been kicked away, and the organised, visible church is left to grow unsupported. Since it is full of non-Christians – and has been for a long time – who are not instinctively obedient to the word of God, it has no means to prune and regulate itself. It has lapsed into a chaotic mess. One need only look at the Anglican Church to see this writ large.
Yet Christ came to establish a pure Church of people with a deep and personal communion with his love. He brought into existence a spotless bride; harmless and gentle; a broken and contrite people; a people who would have mercy and not sacrifice; and a people who would constitute a faithful spouse. Confessional baptism is instrumental to this objective because it calls people to public witness and to public repentance. It is a demand for faith and obedience. It is an admission into the mystery of being united with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.
Until credobaptism becomes the norm in Christendom again, the visible church will continue to look like a vine disconnected from its lattice; a mess of contortions and broken limbs; disunited; its fruit crushed; its frame sickly.
The Taxonomy of Defending a Tradition
Unbiblical traditions – like paedobaptism or other baptism theories – can only ever be defended with an inconsistent approach to the Bible and to history. The arguments are never rooted in scripture as a first recourse. They are instead sculptures of assumptions, drawn from history and from vague, indirect passages of the Bible.
Indeed, the arguments of a traditionalist may not even follow logically from other key principles held by them. But that is not regarded as a problem. A consistency of argumentation is never a priority when a person is already devoted and committed to a particular doctrine. Instead, the objective is to circle the wagons around a particular belief. One sees this over and over again with paedobaptist arguments.
This approach to apologetics is analogous to hacking one’s way through a corn field in the firm assurance that any shortcut that gets you to the mill must be legal, safe, and legitimate. So long as you can “prove” the theological point to the degree that would be accepted by an uncritical audience, what does it matter how you get there?
Do you have a trail of logical wreckage left by broken arguments and silly analogies? Not a problem. What about contradictions and non-sequiturs? That’s okay! Is there an absence of any references to didactic teachings in the scriptures? Again, no problem at all. Just as long as you get there in the end, the means are unimportant.
In the matter of baptism, Reformed Christians (and other Protestant paedobaptists) and Roman Catholics speak with one voice. Upon nearly all other theological matters they are opponents, excommunicating and anathamatising each other. But on this issue they become allies, standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the barricades. This is unsurprising since the Reformed understanding of baptism is borrowed, with very little alteration, from Roman Catholicism. Both affirm paedobaptism; both have some notion that baptism is a continuation of circumcision, and both affirm the sufficiency of the sprinkling mode.
Because the tradition is the same, the manner in which both Reformed and Roman Catholics defend paedobaptism is the same. Let us consider some of the features of their apologetic.
Firstly, they tend to appeal to church history as if it were an authoritative yardstick of practice. They argue that infant baptism is hallowed by a long usage and therefore ought to be accepted by Christians so that they can be in “communion with the true church throughout the ages”. This approach essentially enscripturates history and turns it into a authoritative source of revelation.
In fairness, it must be pointed out that Roman Catholics are being consistent with their theology when they make such an appeal because they also reject the principle of sola scriptura and appeal to tradition defined by their church’s magesterium. But these sorts of historical arguments are profoundly inconsistent when made by the Reformers like John Calvin who purport to settle all their theology on sola scriptura. If sola scriptura really is the foundation for one’s doctrines, then one’s first resort in an apologetic defence would never be to church history and tradition. Yet this is often the first port of call for both Roman Catholics and the Reformed.
Secondly, both the Reformed and Roman Catholics tend to appeal repeatedly to silences in scripture and history as if this was a logical proof of their position. They interpret these silences as affirmations of their position, which is always easy to do. There are many silences in the historical and biblical record, into which a determined dogmatist can insert whatever teaching they like. They can then insist that neither history nor scripture says anything contrary to their position.
To such an extent does an appeal to silence mark their arguments that I have seldom come across a paedobaptist presentation that does not include somewhere, statements to the effect of: “the scriptures say nothing about…” or “church history never shows…“, or “show me one place where the Bible says this is incompatible…“.
Naturally, being eager to argue from silence corresponds to an equal and opposite eagerness to dismiss the hard, positive evidence that would confirm credobaptism. It seems historical and scriptural silence is worth more to the traditionalist’s apologetic than positive statements from the historical and scriptural record. Dismissing the positive evidence to the contrary is always necessary when one wishes to establish a doctrine that is unbiblical.
They do this by the simple means of arbitrarily lifting the goalposts for those scriptural passages, thereby insisting that credobaptism must carry a heavier burden and reach a higher standard than any of their own proofs. The standards are elevated only for evidences in support of credobaptism, of course. The goalposts are always shortened for easy kicks when it comes to their own position.
For example, R. C. Sproul conceded in the baptism debate with John MacArthur that the New Testament shows only adult baptisms. He further conceded that the usual New Testament texts trotted out by paedobaptists in support of their position – such as children being blessed by Jesus – are unconvincing on a scholarly level and are plain silly. This he openly acknowledged.
Yet, in a remarkable about-face on his own principle of sola scriptura, he then insisted that the scriptural examples are irrelevant since they only show baptism of first generation believers. R. C. Sproul went on to appeal to silence (as is always to be expected of the traditionalist) that the New Testament does not show any second generation believers being baptised. Thus, Sproul concluded, in order for the credobaptist texts to carry the weight of authoritative teaching they would have to show Christians in the second generation also being baptised upon confessing Christ. The lack of such baptisms in the Bible, Sproul insisted, suggests that they were baptising their babies.
To say that this is a weak argument is an understatement. It is a preposterous argument. Anybody can play the game of devising loopholes around positive scriptural texts. Anyone can win a debate – “win”, at least in their own minds – if they simply announce that all the evidence opposing their position is inadmissible. Atheists like Richard Dawkins do the same thing when they claim that there is no historical proof of the resurrection. This approach was the subject of a hilarious satire by the Youtube channel Lutheran Satire which pointed out that if you dismiss and wave away all of the proofs of the resurrection found in the gospels, in early church writings, and even in non-Christian historical source then it is certainly true that there is “no historical proof” of the resurrection. In other words, this is a dodge.
Moreover, it is relatively easy to devise some objective to a positive fact of history and then raise the goalposts denying your opponents the right to appeal to that fact. It’s a form of intellectual ring-barking of a healthy, valid fact.
For example, one could adopt R. C. Sproul’s methodology and argue that paedobaptism is invalid because the first adherents of the practice lived in a time of impure water. They thus resorted to sprinkling their children rather than immersing them as adults in order to minimise the risk of disease. Over time, this simple family health measure was elevated to the level of doctrine. Thus, to prove paedobaptism, and to show that it was not just a temporary precautionary measure, it must be shown the early historical record that paedobaptism was practised by Christians with purified water.
This example is purposefully ridiculous, yet it illustrates how arbitrary theology and history can become when unproven assumptions are simply applied to scripture (or even to history) from gaping silence. This is what inevitably happens whenever a traditionalist deviates from the simple reading of the normal sense of the Bible.
Thirdly, the defence of any unbiblical tradition very often requires a misuse of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is a goldmine for proof texts and handy-dandy theological analogies. This is because the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament teaches that the Old Testament provided “types and shadows” of what was to come.
For the traditionalist, this is taken as a license to deduce all kinds of things from the Old Testament that were never dreamed of by the original writers. They turn poetic flourishes into law; hyperbolic remarks into normative standards; minor technical details are turned into didactic teaching, and narrative passages become a fertile dig site for analogies. These analogies, of course, would never occur to anyone reading the scriptures in a simple and direct fashion. To “discover” the analogy, a person must first be exposed to the very doctrine that the traditionalist claims the analogy supports.
At other times Old Testament “evidence” is sought by the traditionalist by word-searching or theme-searching for anything that is vaguely connected to the doctrine.
A good example of these tactics is the effort by at least one Roman Catholic apologist who was defending papal authority. He was particularly determined to prove that the papal claim to bear the “keys of the kingdom” was prophesied in the Old Testament which foresaw the Roman Catholic Church. To find his evidence, he appealed to 1 Chronicles 9:26-27 which speaks of the Levites being responsible for opening the House of God with a key each morning. The Roman Catholic writer triumphantly pointed to this passage as clear evidence that in the Old Testament the priesthood carried the keys to the temple, and so in the New Testament the pope – the highest priest of Romanism – also bears the keys of authority to the kingdom of God.
The logic is clearly invalid. For here the starting point is the doctrinal concept of “the keys”. The Old Testament is then sifted to find anything remotely analogous, but the analogy is clearly not intended by the writer, and the connection would never naturally occur to a reader. You need to begin with the doctrine first – as it was devised by men – and then go and find its proof in the Bible later. This is always the essence of an unbiblical teaching and an unbiblical line of reasoning.
Similarly, when Roman Catholics – like Gerry Matatics – defend the Marian dogmas (such as the intercession of Mary), they sometimes reference Bathsheba as the queen mother. Bathsheba was a “type of Mary” they claim, since she interceded for Adonijah by carrying his requests to King Solomon (2 Kings 2). This is immediately taken as an analogy of the motherly intervention of Mary on behalf of her supplicants. Just like Bathsheba, she receives their prayers and conveys these to her kingly Son. Thus, the Old Testament person of Bathsheba is a prefigure of what Mary would be in the New Testament (according to Roman Catholics).
Yet when it is pointed out that Solomon denied Adonijah’s request which was made through the intermediary of Bathsheba, and that Bathsheba’s intervention directly led to his execution, this is dismissed by the Roman Catholic apologist. “All Old Testament types break down at some point; that is why they are just types“, is the standard response. This is, of course, highly convenient for any defender of tradition.
While it is true that Old Testament types are never exact simulacrums of New Testament doctrines, we are surely entitled to point out that Old Testament types must at least contain the same concepts as the New Testament doctrines that point back to them, or otherwise they cannot be types.
Fourthly, the Old Testament can be subject to having passages removed by the traditionalist completely from their context, and having a new meaning applied to those passages retroactively.
For example, some of the Reformed, unable to evade the clear priority given to personal faith in the New Testament, thus conclude that infants must be capable of faith. It is their infant faith – even if they are just a few days or weeks old – that makes their baptism valid. In essence, these Reformed (and those who follow them) attempt to argue that infant baptism is actually a form of credobaptism. This helps them to resolve the difficulty of having grace supposedly flow into an infant in the absence of any faith whatsoever in Christ.
Credobaptists reject this suggestion as not only unscriptural but as an outrage to plain reason and common sense (traditions often violate plain reason and demand assent to something that is effectively magical).
Credobaptists point out that an infant which cannot so much as speak its own name is hardly going to be able to conceive of Christ as Lord. Neither can an infant hear the word of God which is the Holy Spirit’s ordained means of creating faith. The credobaptist also stands first and foremost on the source of truth – the Bible. They point out that the scriptures always speak of faith as a virtue that works in tandem with a person’s reason and knowledge of the gospel. Faith is not a property that can exist independently of knowledge and conscious awareness of either self or Christ. There is no such thing as unconscious faith. There is no such thing as gospel-less faith.
A person must be conscious of what they believe in order to have faith. Otherwise we could say that a baptised dog or horse is capable of faith, even if they are unaware of Christ and cannot understand the words of Jesus.
The Reformed theologian who makes such a claim – that babies can believe – is obligated to “find” evidence. So he dutifully digs into the Old Testament to conjure up texts that he claims will prove that babies can be believers. Note that when traditionalists use the Old Testament in service of their doctrines, the texts they prefer almost always have a poetic or hyperbolic dimension to them. Or, at the very least, passages that have broad terms. This allows new meanings to be anachronistically applied to them.
The Psalms are especially useful for the purpose of supplying such proofs for traditions because they are written with plenty of metaphors and vivid imagery. This makes them malleable and plastic, easily shaped to a pre-determined interpretive purpose. Context is ignored under such circumstances.
In the case of “proving” infant faith, the Reformed appeal to Psalm 22:9: “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”
They anachronistically supply an artificial context – that of infant baptism – while ignoring the surrounding passage entirely. “Is it not clear,” they ask, “that the psalmist was referring to receiving saving faith as an infant? Does this not prove that infants can have true faith in God and therefore receive baptism as believers?”
In the process of constructing such an argument, they ignore the fact that this is a messianic psalm with many mysteries and metaphors not literally fulfilled in the life of David (who wrote it!). For example, David writes about having pierced hands and feet. He says his heart has melted like wax within him. He writes about being mocked by everyone who passes by, and finishes by declaring that all the families of the earth will worship God.
Clearly, much of the psalm is not to be taken as if it finds literal fulfillment in the life of David. To the contrary, it is the poetic outpouring of a man experiencing deep suffering and depression. Not only does David – the sufferer – feel alone and forsaken, he is left to trust in a God who seems to be far from him at that moment.
As a messianic psalm, it finds its deepest and most complete fulfillment in Christ. From the vantage point of the New Testament we can clearly see how beautifully it expresses Christ’s passion, the loneliness of being mankind’s sin bearer, and the hope contained in his ultimate vindication. The psalm points to his miraculous birth, his crucifixion at the hands of gentiles, his resurrection, and even the new creation that he will inaugurate on the earth.
The context of the psalm tells us that in its primary sense David is reminding God of his providence. Despite the oppressive weight of rejection and pain in David’s existence, it was God, ultimately, who brought him into the world. It was God who had caused him to believe from an early age – so early, it might as well have been at his mother’s breast! Thus, the psalm is simply a testimony that all his life he had believed and trusted in the Living God. Yet even if the text did teach that David had received faith as an infant – even if such a reading is contrary to reason and textually ridiculous – it does not allow us to infer that this is so for all infants.
Naturally the passage says nothing about baptism. The defenders of tradition seldom find in the Old Testament anything explicitly addressing their doctrinal innovations. In this case, the passage does not even didactically and unequivocally teach anything about the implausible idea that infants have faith.
Moreover, a wider look at scripture provides many demonstrations that references to the womb and reports of God’s mercy during infancy are common hyperbolic Hebraisms. This kind of poetry is only intended to speak of God’s providential leading and working from the very beginning of life, not to assert that the infants themselves received those properties and gifts at that very stage of their lives.
We can see this in the language used by St. Paul when gave his testimony to the Galatians: “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being” (Galatians 1:15-16).
St. Paul says that he was separated by God from his mother’s womb. He cannot be talking about either faith or baptism in this passage, since prior to his conversion his faith was in a false Judaism (and a God he did not know). And when St. Paul had been born, there was not yet any Christianity into which he could possibly be baptised. He is simply employing a Hebraism to speak of God’s lifelong providential care and supervision, right from the moment that God brought him into the world from his mother’s womb.
Thus the Reformed use of this Old Testament text to “prove” the possibility of infant faith not only offends reason, but stretches the proof text far beyond the container of its context. It is quite common for traditionalists to magnify poetic statements and adapt them to the least natural interpretations and reading of the text. This they do in service to a concept far removed from the text, its genre, its purpose, and overall message.
Moreover, it must be remembered that this is the sort evidence being used to lay just a single plank in the outbuildings of a doctrinal edifice that has not even been shown to be scriptural in a direct and primary sense.
Traditionalists commonly use the Old Testament to find these textual tidbits. These are used to confirm the secondary details of their doctrine. Often this forms the body of their argument, as if by establishing proof texts for enough of their doctrine’s secondary details they will somehow give the main premise of their doctrine a scriptural foundation. It is like a builder pouring his efforts into gardens, retaining walls, landscaping, and driveways in the hope that by erecting all of these, somehow a new dwelling will suddenly materialise as well.
Ultimately, Reformed Christians end up using the same arguments against credobaptists that Roman Catholics used (and continue to use) against the Protestant Reformation! It is truly noteworthy with what unity the Reformed and Roman Catholics speak when they denounce credobaptists. The Reformed sometimes appear to be blissfully unaware that their key debating points could have been directly lifted from the counter-Reformation. And this fact alone should be a flashing red light as a sign of a deficient argument. For if you repeat arguments against your opponent’s position which could be validly used against your own theology, you can know with certainty that the wheels have come flying off the bus and logic has broken down somewhere.
Any time an argument is made that bears this kind of logical architecture, one can be sure they are dealing with an extra-biblical tradition. It is the mere teaching of men and bears the imprint of men. Thus its reasoning is slippery and ill-founded, for it is not founded on the Rock of the word of God.